Ik Student
Universiteit Amsterdam

‘Sweaty palms and fear of making a fool of myself’

Listening to others

‘I’m one of these people who other people come to when they have a problem. Apparently I’m easy to talk to. I take that as a compliment. I’m not like that myself, though. You really have to drag it out of me.’

Teddy Bear

‘Sometimes I suddenly have a fit of anger and then I’m very short with everyone around me. I don’t know why I do that. It’s not like me, I was always the class Teddy Bear.’

Bob is seventeen, he lives with his parents in Purmerend and he’s studying biomedical sciences. In many ways he’s enjoying that. However, there are things that are bothering him. Fear of failure for instance. And things aren’t easy at home either.

In secondary school he didn’t have many friends. Bob: ‘They pigeonholed everyone there. Every step you took could get you into trouble. That did nothing for my self-confidence. That was particularly bad in the first few years of secondary school. Sometimes I suffered complete blackouts.’ When he went to university all this soon changed. ‘I met all sorts of people with the same level of thinking and who are on the same wavelength as I am. Now I am a part of the group. I can speak much more freely, that feels so good. No matter what you think and do, you’re accepted. That makes it less threatening to make mistakes. I can be myself more at university.’

Fear of failure
Bob doesn’t feel he has any real problems. He does suffer from fear of failure, though. ‘I try to be as relaxed as possible about that, but that’s very hard at times. I can feel the tension: I start to perspire, I get sweaty palms and I’m afraid to make a fool of myself. Once I’m in that downward spiral, things can only go wrong, it seems. The sensation already begins two hours before an exam, when I’m on the train. ‘Exam week sounds so serious, which only makes matters worse.’ So far he hasn’t earned any good grades. ‘They’re not bad either, but they are lower than I had expected. That’s unpleasant.’

Problems at home
On top of that, the situation at home is not easy. ‘My mother is terribly ill, she has three slipped discs and is in a wheelchair. She was hardly eating anything, but she was gaining weight, so then she had to undergo surgery for a stomach reduction. That failed completely. She is trying to recover from that at the moment.’ His father also has a very taxing job, for which he is often away from home. This means a lot of the responsibility falls on Bob. After school he often looks after his younger brother and he helps his mother out with all sorts of things.

Sometimes he struggles with the situation at home, but his friends say he does not show it. ‘They think I am very relaxed about it, but I feel I am bottling it all up. I would rather keep it hidden. If you ask me how I am doing, I will say something about it, but I do not have many emotional conversations with people. It all sounds so pathetic then. And people are not usually interested anyway.’
What does he do to cope with his fear of failure? He tries to stay as relaxed as possible. ‘I meditate, of sorts. Exhale fully and turn inward. Then I tell myself I am alright. Usually I feel a lot better then. The fear of failure is something I have to work on myself. It is no use taking a course, it only costs time. That is no help at all.’

Bob’s story: ‘Sweaty palms and fear of making a fool of myself’
Jason’s story: ‘I thought I had to be a resounding success’
Marla’s story: ‘I find it harder to concentrate than other students do.’
Michael’s story: ‘And then my student grant ran out.’

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